(David Jenkins, Staff)
It's the Bulldogs' third straight victory after a season opening loss and it is their fifth straight win over the Mules.
Sikeston's defense forced four Poplar Bluff turnovers, returned an interception for a touchdown and returned a punt for a touchdown.
"I think that we played really well on defense," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We got some big interceptions and got the return for the touchdown. We played really well on special teams for a change and that was a good thing to see as part of the maturation process."
Sikeston's special teams were solid all night long as they dominated the field position battle -- returning two kicks across midfield, returning a punt for a touchdown, forcing a safety on a Poplar Bluff punt attempt, forcing a fumble on a Poplar Bluff punt return and downing one of their own punts at the Mule 1-yard line.
Coming off his 328-yard record breaking performance last week, Sikeston senior James Watson had another strong outing, rushing for 153 yards on 18 carries with a 77-yard touchdown and a 66-yard punt return for a score.
"They were taking a backer and lining him up on Keldon (Warfield) and taking him kind of out of the game and they were also playing Kyland (Gross) that way," Gibbs said. "What they were doing defensively to us meant that James had to have a big night."
Sikeston got on the board first with a 10-play, 69-yard drive capped by quarterback David Foster's 9-yard touchdown run to lead 6-0.
Poplar Bluff (1-3) responded with a 9-play, 58-yard drive as quarterback Michael Griggs found Austin Goodrich for a 14-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-1. The Mules' Matt Riggins booted the extra point to give Poplar Bluff a 7-6 lead with 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Bulldog drive, Watson broke free for a 46-yard touchdown, but a penalty wiped out the score and the drive eventually ended on downs.
After forcing a Poplar Bluff punt, Watson fielded it, broke to the left sideline, and then reversed field across the middle for a 66-yard punt return. Markeith Bratcher ran in the two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead with 6:59 left in the second quarter.
"That's just a mistake," Poplar Bluff coach Mark Barousse said. "We directional punt and we punted it the wrong way. You've still got to make a play, and we had a chance to make a play but he got loose on us. They've got some good athletes. We were fine up front, but we got out-athleted a little bit."
Sikeston threatened to score again right before the half, but the Bulldogs came up short on four straight plays inside the 4-yard line, leaving the score 14-7 at the half.
With the Mules seizing the momentum after the goal line stand, Sikeston took it right back on the opening possession of the third quarter, eventually scoring on a Gross 3-yard run to lead 20-7.
"I thought the series to start the second half was the biggest series of the game," Barousse said. "We've got the momentum and if we get a three-and-out here, then we've got a shot."
But Sikeston took over from there. After a Poplar Bluff punt, Watson took the handoff on the first play of the series and darted right up the middle for a 77-yard touchdown, pushing the Bulldog lead to 26-7 with 7:15 left in the third quarter.
"He's tough to shut down in space," Barousse said of Watson. "I felt up front we did a real good job, but if you blow one assignment and give him a crease he's got big play potential. We blew an assignment there, over-ran it a little bit, the safety didn't play cutback, and he ended up with a big play."
Then on the ensuing Poplar Bluff possession, Warfield intercepted a Griggs pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. Gross ran in the two-point conversion to lead 34-7.
Sikeston added the safety in the fourth quarter when Poplar Bluff's punter mishandled the snap and it went out of the back of the end zone.
The Bulldogs finished with 292 yards of offense, but they also had zero turnovers in the game. Foster threw for a season-high 109 yards on 7 of 12 passing.
"We were not so good on offense, but part of that you have to take your hat off to Poplar Bluff, they had a really good scheme against us and did some good things and we had a hard time moving the ball," Gibbs said.
The Mules finished with 208 yards of total offense. Austin Barousse led the Mule ball carriers with 85 yards rushing on 18 carries.
"People are going to try to grind the ball on us and try to keep it away from our offense," Gibbs said. "Sometimes they kind of get the momentum, they get off the ball and hit you in the mouth and get six or seven yards and line up and do it again. But our defense has shown some resiliency in the fact that they've come up with big plays and made some big stops. Obviously we've got to get to the point where people aren't getting those big chunks of yards against us and moving the chains and keeping the ball. But overall, I think our defense really improved this week."
S -- David Foster 9 run (kick failed), 5:53
P -- Austin Goodrich 14 pass from Michael Griggs (Matt Riggins kick), 0:54
S -- James Watson 66 punt return (Markeith Bratcher run), 6:59
S -- Kyland Gross 3 run (kick failed), 9:05
S -- Watson 77 run (run failed), 7:15
S -- Keldon Warfield 79 interception return (Gross run), 3:58
S -- Safety, 6:45
Poplar Bluff -- Austin Barousse 18-85, Lorenzo Dailey 2-35, Cornelius Timothy 10-30, Alex Lewis 3-5, Michael Griggs 8-0, Team 1-(-2). Sikeston -- James Watson 18-153, Kyland Gross 7-34, David Foster 6-12, Team 1-0, Markeith Bratcher 1-(-2), Chris Word 3-(-14).
Poplar Bluff -- Michael Griggs 4-13-1 55, Alex Lewis 0-2-1 0. Sikeston -- David Foster 7-12-0 109.
Poplar Bluff -- Austin Goodrich 2-32, Drew Dowd 1-13, Brian Hicks 1-10. Sikeston -- Markeith Bratcher 1-46, Keldon Warfield 4-38, Andrew Hicks 1-19, Kyland Gross 1-6.